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EA Sports Free to Use College Athletes' Likenesses in Video Games

By Robin Enos on May 10, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Sports video games a serious business. Millions of dollars go into the development and marketing of football, basketball and baseball games featuring realistic likenesses of sports heroes.

After EA Sports put former UCLA and NBA veteran Ed O'Bannon's image in hoops video games without his permission, O'Bannon sued, reports CBS Sports.

So does EA Sports own Ed O'Bannon's face in a UCLA uniform? Can the NCAA sell the right to O'Bannon's face in that uniform?

O'Bannon, college/NBA legend Oscar Robertson and former Nebraska QB Sam Keller sued EA Sports, the NCAA and the Collegiate Licensing Company, for a share of profits from video games using their faces, pictured in their college uniforms.

Now Judge Claudia Wilken of the U.S. District Court in Northern California has dismissed EA Sports from the players' consolidated lawsuit.

Judge Wilken ruled only that EA Sports, a brand owned by electronic gaming giant Electronic Arts, Inc., played no role in any conspiracy to force student-athletes to sign yearly forms transferring rights to their images to the NCAA in perpetuity.

However, Judge Wilken denied NCAA and Collegiate Licensing Company's motions to dismiss. So the players' claims against the NCAA and Collegiate Licensing will go to trial, reports CBS Sports.

The law protects the right of an individual to use their own image for commercial advantage. A person's identity is considered a property right. That means the right to a person's image can be bought, sold or transferred just like, say, a Super Bowl jersey or a pair of shoes.

So EA Sports escapes this time. But if O'Bannon and company win their suit, video game companies might have to pay them for using their images in college uniforms, as well as in their pro gear.

The video game industry and a lot of athletes and agents will watch this case closely.

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